Unlovable: Seeking Approval

unlovable, seeking approvalThis is the third installment about a client I was seeing. Now he and his wife had been married for 12 years and my client, George would go into uncontrollable rages over nothing at all. When his wife asked why, he would always say, “I don’t know what got into me.” His wife, Nancy, was afraid of his anger. She was afraid to talk to him for fear of setting off an eruption. She experienced anxiety most of the time when he was home, and sometimes even when we was not.

(Therapist) “Can you choose to ask Nancy if you really do have to do it right now or could you being in a few minutes when you are ready?”
(George) “That’s hard for me.”

(Therapist) “What is the hardest thing about it?”
(George) “It’s like I’m asking permission.”

(Therapist) “Do you have the right to ask for what you want?”
(George) “Yes”

(Therapist) “On what basis?”
(George) “I don’t know.”

(Therapist) “As an equal member of the human race. Not superior or inferior, better or worse. You, and Nancy, and your father are unconditionally loveable and worthwhile despite your mistakes and imperfections. You don’t have to prove your worth or defend yourself from others judgments. You get to be the judge and you determine how good is good enough to feel like a success.”
(George) “I never thought about it like that. I’m always trying to do everything by myself, but no matter how hard I tried I never could.”

(Therapist) “It must be very frustrating and discouraging. You can outgrow this learning from your childhood by pushing your comfort zone and asking Nancy for what you want. It’s not begging. It is a request for cooperation between two equal members of the human race.”
(George) “What if I don’t get what I’m asking for?”

(Therapist) “Will it make you angry?”
(George) “Yes”

(Therapist) “Will you take it personally?”
(George) “Yes. I’ll feel like an idiot, like I should have known better.”

(Therapist) “You won’t be an idiot. Do you define your self-worth in terms of Nancy’s approval? You cannot always please everyone. You cannot read their minds. You don’t really know what pleases them. You have enough trouble figuring out what pleases you. That is not control. That is not preventing disaster. This is a power struggle over who is better, who can make whom submit to who. You can catch yourself about to react to Nancy in the old way, out of fear of being punished for failing and displeasing. Instead you can choose to live in the present. You can listen to what she is saying, not what you feel like she is saying. She is not your father. She is your imperfect wife in the present. She is not superior, you are not inferior, you are both equal members of the human race.”
(George) “How do I remember that?”

(Therapist) “By pushing your comfort zone and asking Nancy for her cooperation, as one adult to another. You can say, ‘Nancy is it alright if I do the dishes after the kids go to bed. I don’t get to see them that much these days.’ Can you do that?”
(George) “I don’t know.”

(Therapist) “There is one way to find out and that is to push your comfort zone and take the risk when the opportunity arises. Who is in control of your choice?
(George) “I guess it is up to me.”

(Therapist) “If you don’t who will. It’s up to you, you’re all you got control over.”


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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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